On the northwestern edge of Kyoto lies Takao, a scarcely populated mountain region hiding vast nature and beautiful temples. Takao is only an hour away from central Kyoto and is an attractive destination throughout the year for those who like the outdoors.
The first “secret” of Takao is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Kozanji dating back to 774. One of the many treasures the temple owns is Choju-Jinbutsu-giga, considered to be Japan’s very first manga. Today the scroll are entrusted to the Kyoto’s and Tokyo’s National Museum. These four picture scroll, often referred to in English as ‘Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans’, depicts rabbits and monkeys bathing and prepare to attend a ceremony. However, a thieving monkey appears and knocks over a frog during the lively ceremony. In the final scenes some of the animals play together while others participate in a funeral and pray to Buddha. The story has been adapted into numerous novels and served as an inspiration for many manga artists throughout Japan. Apart from the scroll, Kozanji might also be the first place in Japan where tea was cultivated. Visitors can admire the restored tea plantation during their visit.
Jingoji is another Buddhist temple complex located nearby belonging to the Shingon Buddhism sect devoted to the Buddha of Healing. The temple grounds are vast and house a great variety of buildings, but its most famous section is its approach whereby visitors climbs hundreds of stair steps towards its main gate. During the autumn season the approach is covered by red maple trees and the various small shops along the approach open up for business selling all-kinds of snacks and small dishes.
Before heading out towards the hiking path there is Saimyoji accessible by the Shigetsukyo Bridge leading over the river, which is beautifully covered in vermilion paint and is another one of Takao’s famous sceneries. Saimyoji is perhaps the smallest of the three temples, but in its size lays its charm. The small pond and moss-covered gardens combined with an amazing view across the valley it overlooks truly is a treat for the eyes. Additionally, the shop next to the bridge offers delicious hot pot dishes to regain some well-needed energy for the upcoming hike through the river valley.
The Kiyotaki River trail is a two-to-three-hour hike taking you along the base of Mount Atago. It offers you some of the most beautiful scenery you will find in the Kansai region as well as many places to jump in the river during the hot summer months. During autumn the valley turns into thousands of shades of yellow, orange and red as the leaves start changing their colours. The trial is one of Kyoto’s most popular hiking paths yet it is still rare to come across someone along the 2.5-mile trail, I myself for example can probably count the amount of people on two hands during my five visits to the area this year. Although it may not be a replacement for the natural beauty in other regions of Japan, such as Nagano or Hokkaido, Mount Atago and Takao are great alternatives for those visiting or living in Kansai.
Access and admission fees
Every 30 minutes there is a JR bus that leaves from Kyoto Station (for Keihokucho) to Takao, which is covered by the JR Pass or just costs 520 yen one way and takes about 50 minutes. There are of course other stops along the way, such as the bus stops at JR Nijo Station and Ninnaji. Another option is to take Kyoto city bus number 8, but please be aware that not the entire route to Takao is covered by the city’s flat-rate area. The bus leaves from Shijo Karasuma and like the JR Bus costs 520 yen one way. The Kyoto city bus stops in Takao are conveniently located near Jingoji and Saimyoji, while the JR bus also continues to Toganoo bus stop near Kozanji.
After your hike there is Kiyotaki bus stop up the hill from Sagakiyotaki. From here you can take Kyoto buses 64 and 94 towards Arashiyama, which is completely covered under Kyoto’s flat-rate area. Access to the temples is generally free except during November for the autumn season.